"This outstanding novel is set in a remote British penal colony, late in the 1790s. Thomas Keneally's evocative writing gives us searing insight into the sun-parched settlements of hungry transports and corruptive soldiers. But this is not an 'historical' novel in the usual sense. It is the story of a man, Corporal Phelim Halloran, and of the demands made on him - by his girl, his Irish comrades, his superior officers, and, most often, by his conscience.
"Innocent and lover, poet, soldier-by-accident, scholar by the standards of his day, Halloran attempts to make a world unto himself. through his pity and love for Ann Rush, his 'secret bride'; but many seem pledged to complicate these simple desires. There is the convict-artist, Thomas Ewers, persecuted and compelled to illustrate the officers' journals. There is Halloran's feckless colleague, Terry Byrne. The convict, Quinn, whose term of imprisonment should have been nearly over. Robert Hearne, political prisoner, government clerk and traitor.
"Halloran comes to disbelieve in any other existence except his own and God's, until, shockingly and irrevocably, he is reunited with Ann."
At the world's end, it is Sunday afternoon in February. Through the edge of the forest a soldier moves without any idea he's caught in a mesh of sunlight and shade. Corporal Halloran's this fellow's name. He's a lean boy taking long strides through the Sabbath heat. Visibly, he has the illusion of knowing where he's going. Let us say, without conceit, that is any of his ideas on this subject were not illusion, there would be no story.
He is not exactly a parade-ground soldier today. His hair isn't slicked into a queue, because the garrison he serves in has no pomade left, and some idle subaltern is trying to convert the goo into candles. Halloran's in his shirt, his forage jacket over his left arm. He wears gaiters over canvas shoes. Anyone who knew firearms would take great interest in the musket he's got in his right hand. It's a rare model that usually hangs in the company commander's office.
From the Cassell Australia hardback edition, 1967, second edition.
This novel won the 1967 Miles Franklin Award.
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Last modified: March 26, 2001.